Fire audit: these two words are enough to strike fear into the hearts of any strata unit owner. Unless your apartment was built in the last 10 years it more than likely does not comply with current Australian Building Code requirements for fire safety.
This can mean anything from having to replace apartment entry doors with fire-rated ones to installing fire hose reels or even fire shutters.
Whether or not your building needs upgrading will be assessed by an expert who will complete a detailed report setting out building elements, their compliance and whether upgrades or maintenance are required.
This auditor could be employed by your local council or you may choose to engage your own independent consultant. Your owners corporation will need to meet and discuss the best way to carry out and fund the required work.
The extent of the upgrade will depend on the age and size of the building, whether there is existing fire safety equipment already installed and its condition as well as the number of occupants.
Some fire services focus on evacuation, such as emergency lighting and fire escapes. Others, such as fire hose reels and extinguishers, allow occupants to start fighting the fire themselves until help arrives. In larger buildings, compartmentalisation may be required.
This means dividing the building into fire compartments separated by fire doors or shutters which activate in the event of a fire. This allows fire and smoke to be contained within one part of the building for a set amount of time until the fire department can reach the building.
Fire services are notoriously difficult to integrate into a building, especially one that was not designed to take them.
It may be a good idea to engage an interior designer or architect to advise on integrating the required fire services into the existing structure, especially if the building is of heritage significance, or if space is limited.
How will sprinklers and smoke detectors look on the feature ceiling in the foyer? How bad are the fire hose reels going to look on each floor near the lifts?
A designer might be able to come up with clever and visually pleasing ways of complying with the Building Code. The requirements are very prescriptive, but there are ways of reducing the potential impact on your building.
A design professional can, in fact, take the whole nightmare off your hands and coordinate all the work from beginning to end. This is often worthwhile for a larger building or one of heritage significance.